The United States Mint is making some real change at Ground Zero.
The only official medal commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks went on sale Monday. The medal's final design was unveiled by U.S. Treasurer Rosa Rios during a press conference at the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site near the World Trade Center site in New York.
"The medal we present to the American public today has been created by the United States Mint to commemorate September 11th, 2001," Ms. Rios said, "a day that changed our nation and our world forever."
The medal is made with one ounce of pure silver. Its obverse, or "heads" side, has the inscription "Always Remember" and shows Lady Liberty holding what the U.S. Mint calls a "lamp of remembrance." Two beacons of light stretch toward the sky behind her.
The medal's reverse, or "tails" side, has an eagle flying over the words "Honor" and "Hope." A waterfall cascades down in the background.
The medal costs $56.95. Ten dollars from the sale of each one will go directly to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. If all two million medals sell out, that will generate $20 million dollars to help pay for the memorial and museum's day to day operations.
"Maintaining this place costs money. The landscaping, the maintenance, the security, the visitor's services," National 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels lists some of the things the medal will help fund. "Everything you think in a large institution that's going to have 5 million visitors, it costs something to run it."
The Memorial is set to open to the public on September 12th, 2011. The Museum is expected to open sometime in 2012. Once both of them are open, Daniels expects it will cost 50 to 60 million dollars a year to keep them open. If the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s organizers do not receive enough federal funding, or make enough money through the sales of this medal, maintenance costs could be passed down to visitors in the form of a suggested admission price for the museum.
"Our preference is not to charge an admissions fee," says Daniels, "But we need to do what we have to do to keep this place maintained." Access to the street-level memorial will remain free.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., wants to make sure people who want keepsake coins are spending their money in the right place.
"If you waste your money on some bogus thing," Nadler says, "it goes to some fly-by-night operator, it doesn't go to the museum."
Earlier this year, Rep. Nadler and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on "The National Collector's Mint," a company which sells commemorative coins with a television commercial that claims the coins are made with silver "actually recovered from beneath the ashes of Ground Zero."
"The FTC did investigate," says Nadler. "They issued a very strong warning as to what they had better not do or risk prosecution and we'll see what happens now."
In a statement, The National Collector's Mint stands by its claims:
"The use of silver recovered from vaults underneath the World Trade Center was independently verified by Mark Mershon, a former assistant director and senior executive with the FBI, with more than 30 years of investigative and inspection experience."
Nadler says the company's ads take money away from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum by misleading people into believing the coins are government sanctioned. The company says there is room in the market for both coins.
"The National Collector’s Mint welcomes the release of the 9/11 National Medal by the U.S. Mint. We believe there is a marketplace for both private and government-issued commemoratives."
NCM’s statement also lists the 2 million dollars worth of charitable donations the company has made to various 9/11 related charities, but does not break down how much money from the sale of each coin is donated.
At $56.95, some may say the official government-issued 9/11 medal costs a pretty penny. However, the Mint's not making a dime.
"There's the cost of the silver. There is the cost to produce. There's the 10 dollar surcharge," U.S. Treasurer Rios said referring to the portion set aside for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. "We do not make money off of these."